Friday, September 27, 2013

Fantastic Fest 2013 Review: A FIELD IN ENGLAND - Javi and Jonesy's Take

Directed by: Ben Wheatley
Written by: Amy Jump, and Ben Wheatley
Starring: Michael Smiley, Ryan Pope, Richard Glover, Reece Shearsmith and Peter Ferdinando
Synopsis: Five deserters from the English Civil War find themselves in a field to find hidden treasure.

Ed. note: For all new readers, Jonesy and I (Javi) will do a joint review/discussion where we both express our thoughts on the film, usually immediately after seeing it.

Javi: A FIELD IN ENGLAND is the fourth feature film by English director Ben Wheatley (unless you count STEVE COOGAN: THE INSIDE STORY). One of the most anticipated movies of the festival and the year for me, but it definitely needs a rewatch to better understand what Wheatley was trying to accomplish because I ended up leaving the movie confused.

Jonesy: This was also one of my most anticipated movies of the festival. I've never seen any of his movies, but I know that everyone loved SIGHTSEERS last year, and you loved THE KILL LIST. The trailer doesn't show much in terms of plot, but the visuals looked unique. I can't fully explain what the story is really about. For one, it doesn't have a normal plot structure.

Javi: It does....but it's difficult to understand. The difficulty might stem from the fact that you can't easily discern what is literal and what should be a hallucination? A lot of the times, the images that you think are part of a hallucination are then referenced later in the movie as having actually happened.

Jonesy: So the film starts off with four guys who are leaving a battle during the English Civil War. They eventually run into a fifth man, O'Neill,  in a field in the middle of nowhere. He knows one of the men we've been following, Whitehead, since they both studied under the same alchemist. O'Neill gives off an evil sorcerer vibe with the way he carries himself. Then, under O'Neill's command, they go search for a treasure in a field and that's the basic premise of the movie. But there is some craaaaaaaaaaaaaaaazy stuff that happens.

Javi: Part of the appeal of this movie, at least the way that the movie and the marketing seems to refer to, is the fact there are psychedelic mushrooms in this field, so they were playing up the trippy amazingly well-done images. Visually speaking, this was one of the best movies of the festival. It was edited by Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley, and I don't think I've seen a strobing effect pulled off in such a way as this film did. They should definitely be commended for it.

Jonesy: You're definitely in for a strange time when the first thing you see in a black and white movie set during the English Civil War is motion sickness/strobing warning.

Javi: I found the film really pretty to look at, but at the same time, I was trying find some sort of theme or purpose of the movie. I was hoping maybe there would be some connecting thread to Wheatley's other movies, but I couldn't think of anything beyond the fact that they're all violent. It's strange trying to find a theme because nothing is "real". I try to think that I'm a smart fella, but I really questions whether Wheatley was able to convey a message with telling this story in this specific manner and whether maybe it would've been effective to do it another way. What do you think?

Jonesy: It feels like we shouldn't dwell on the plot because there's not much of one. It's just a few guys dealing with each other while they are coerced into looking for treasure. There are some themes of good versus evil and what's reality and what isn't. An interesting scene that occurs early on in the movie is when Whitehead is talking to Friend, another runaway and a more peasant/simpleminded type, who mentions that he doesn't ever think or know anything about the stars and planet. To him, something as big as the stars and planets don't even affect him, and it doesn't play into his daily life....f*ck, I don't know if I'm even making sense...

Javi: Maybe there's a commentary of the power of knowledge?  The only reason that O'Neill wants Whitehead is because he thinks that Whitehead knows how to find this treasure. I want to emphasize the fact that this is an insanely gorgeous movie. There was a constant use of soft focus in the way that the field was shot which made it look beautiful, but then in the next shot, it could look terrifying. I love it when I see a modern black and white films that are well shot because it speaks to a director that understands and knows how to work well within the limitations of black and white. Also, all five actors are fantastic. They all fill some sort of archetype, you don't get too much of a back story, but since they are a solid version of common character types, when they are put in peril, you feel that sense of dread.

Jonesy: I enjoyed the black and white as well. There is one particular scene where the actions is moving in slow motion, and its terrifying because of the ambiguity of what is actually happening. Then it's juxtaposed with the next scene with is upbeat and fast paced. Maybe the whole point is to get a bunch of mushrooms, and then come watch this film and only then will it make sense. Do you know the time frame of the film? Do you think that it helped the story? Or does it really matter?

Javi:  If we go along the thought line of having the themes of reality, knowledge, and our perception of it, then it would matter. In any other time period, you couldn't have Friend not knowing about the stars and the planets. Along those lines, I was very into the costume design of this period. As weird as it sounds, I have never really payed attention at what a man was wearing with such high detail as I did in this movie. O'Neill has an amazingly evil looking cape and costume. Then there's Jacob (the tough one) trying to go pee, and when he's undressing, you see all of the accessories and pouches he is carrying. What does he have in there? Why would a character need all of those?

Jonesy: This film is not for everyone, but it's definitely a discussion film.. It will become one of those films studied and written about excessively with the overload of metaphors and images that are open for interpretation.

Javi: I agree, and this could be one of the most divisive movies of Fantastic Fest because one could make the argument (even though I am willing to give it another chance) that there is not really a story, and Wheatley is just masturbating on screen for no reason and showing off how out there he can be.

Jonesy: He's just putting stuff on screen for the sake of it? I'd hate to think that is something directors would do.

Javi: Well, I don't think that his filmography lends itself to that "hack director" interpretation, but it could be easy to make that argument. Closing thoughts, instead of talking about whether we liked it because we both seem to have overall enjoy it, who do you think is the type of person that would enjoy this movie?

Jonesy: If you are a person that doesn't care about plot but just enjoys the visual experience of movies and movies that warrant discussion, then this is right up your alley.

Javi: I would say that if you are the type of person that doesn't mind rewatching movies, this is something that you need to experience in the big screen at least one for the sensory experience and then you can watch again at home to try to understand it.

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